Competency-Based Education and Equity

After one quarter of using a modified data wall as part of an overall competency-based approach with my Spanish 1 classes, not only has it made learning visible for the students and allowed them to assume responsibility for their own learning, but it has also helped to close opportunity gaps that lead to disparities in achievement in my own classroom.  In addition to increasing the achievement of all students in the classroom by implementing best-practice instructional strategies, I also strive to provide high levels of support to ensure equitable access to a standards-based curriculum.

I received an email from a textbook publisher last week that began with the text below.
How did you learn to ride a bike?  Did you sit in a chair while someone explained the fundamentals of bike riding, or did you go outside and give it a try?  Did you get better by memorizing a set of expert techniques, or did you get a few skinned knees until you improved?  Whether it’s riding a bike or learning a la…

Modified Data Wall: A Classroom Experiment

As I reflect on the competency-based approach that I adopted with my Spanish 1 students last school year, there were many positives along with a few areas for improvement.  (If you are looking for an overview of the differences between competency-based education and traditional education, check out this article from iNACOL.)

Some of the positives were students assuming ownership of their own learning, the ability to provide additional time and support within a traditional classroom setting for students who needed it to master the learning objectives, and the ability for advanced learners to progress through the curriculum at an accelerated pace.

Perhaps the most reaffirming aspect of my shift to a competency-based approach last year was the anecdotal feedback from students.  When I asked students on anonymous surveys at various points in the year if they liked the competency-based approach or if they would prefer a traditional approach, students overwhelmingly indicated that they pref…

Cell Phones in the High School Classroom

As my educator colleagues know, I take a slightly different approach to cell phone use in my classroom.  I firmly believe that our job as educators is not only to prepare students for college and careers but also for life.  To that end, I cannot recall a time that I have been required to surrender my cell phone or place it in a caddy in my adult life.  Even as an AP Reader with strict security protocols, I always had my cell phone in my pocket as did many other Readers in the reading room.
Given this, I choose not to have a caddy in my room or require that students place their phones in it.  Instead, I spend a substantial amount of time at the beginning of the year and as needed throughout the year discussing digital citizenship with my students.  The gist of the conversation is that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to use your cell phone--and there are also a lot of gray areas!
I use myself and personal anecdotes to make the point.  For instance, this year during our al…

Student Engagement: The Overlooked Factor in College and Career Readiness

Virtually every school is committed to graduating all students college and career ready. Teachers are asked to help students meet higher standards than ever before to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Standardized test scores hover ominously above the entire educational community, ready to label a student as exceeding standards or needing support and a school as exceeding expectations or in need of improvement. In the current high-stakes educational climate, few stop to take the temperature and ask how students are doing. Are they attentive, persistent, and committed? Do they value and find meaning in school work?

The Schlechty Center argues that if schools want to graduate all students college and career ready that students must be engaged in the classroom. As a teacher, I acknowledge that much of what I do in the classroom does not engage all students at high levels all the time.  Using the continuum of engagement provided by the Schlechty Center, I have to admit that t…

This I Believe

“You would do the same if I were a guest in your country,” said a middle-aged Chilean man to me as we stood along a busy highway at night waiting for a bus to arrive that would take me back to Santiago from Linares, a city four hours to the south. You see, when I bought the round-trip bus ticket in Santiago to travel to visit a host family with whom I had lived some months before, I thought that I would be departing from Linares at 7:00 p.m.; however, the bus was starting its route at 7:00 p.m. and would not arrive in Linares until closer to 9:00 p.m. Now, my host dad was waiting outside in the cold with me for the bus to arrive even though I told him that it was not necessary because he felt an obligation to take care of me, seeing as I was a foreigner in his country. I still remember that night over a decade ago as if it were yesterday. At the time I felt a sense of guilt because, quite frankly, I was not sure that I would be doing the same if our roles were reversed in the United St…